After a years-long battle with anorexia, 23-year-old Carolyn Mallett is celebrating recovery and her new career as a trauma nurse at Regional One hospital. In September 2014, Carolyn suffered an eating disorder relapse during her freshman year of college in Chattanooga that forced her into inpatient hospital care.
“Everything was taken from me, and it was really overwhelming,” she says. “I was there for two and a half months, which helped get me back on my feet. I had dreams I wanted to follow that weren’t compatible with my condition.”
She returned to Memphis with her parents and completed a successful program at the Transformation Center for Outpatient Therapy. In the years since, she’s graduated with a degree in nursing from the University of Memphis and started an Instagram @thelittlehungrycaterpillar, which is devoted to helping young people who struggle with eating disorders. She posts regularly on mental health, ending the eating disorder stigma, and some of her favorite meals.
What was the inspiration behind @thelittlehungrycaterpillar?
I originally used it as my own diary to keep myself accountable and stay on track. Slowly over time, I met all of these incredible people from all over the world who had been in the same place as me. It’s been really rewarding because I’ve had the opportunity to reach out when I needed advice and have been the person others can reach out to. I picture myself in that position, like the little girl I was in high school, and what I would want to say to her if I could go back.
What’s your daily diet, and how has it changed?
I’ve gone through phases of everything: calorie-counting, Paleo, vegetarianism, and veganism. I decided this past year that I don’t need any of those labels anymore because they can lead to shame or guilt. For years I used to look up menus before I go out to eat, but now it’s so much more relaxed. I’m able to go out and pick what I want rather than what I feel like is necessary. That’s been a huge weight off my shoulders.
Every fad diet I’ve tried has felt like I was missing something. Carbs, fats, and proteins are the three macronutrients that are essential for survival. Eating more of one doesn’t make me weak. It’s just a source of energy.
Cook at home or eat out on the town?
Eat out because I love seeing what people can create. I love sushi and picking up ice cream with my boyfriend. If I’m at home, I always make sure I have a lot of sweet potatoes on hand. I eat smoothie bowls, I make a tofu scramble, I love salmon.
What are your fitness goals?
I used to be very all or nothing and I’d have to workout every day. Now I work out four times a week, which is much more attainable. I’m cutting down on cardio and working on weightlifting. I just started climbing at Memphis Rox, which I love even though I’m terrified of heights. I love my original gym, Planet Fitness in Midtown, where I’m an ambassador. I’ve met many cool people there and the staff is like my family.
What motivates you?
When I was at rock bottom, I couldn’t visualize what my future would look like, but now I’m inspired by the work I do as a nurse. Every day, I have the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. If I can’t do it for myself, I want to do it for the difference I can make. On those days when it’s difficult to take care of myself, I think about my work as a nurse and the kind of mother or wife I want to be one day.
A huge thing for me has been my support system. My friends, family, and boyfriend have all been exceptional. Rather than bringing judgment or listening to the stereotypes of eating disorders, they really tried to understand where that piece of me was coming from. That’s made so much of a difference.
By India Nikotich. Photo by Tindall Stephens.